The story of ‘Does This Train Stop on Merseyside’ on the tenth anniversary since its official release.
Today, Sunday 31st May is the 10th anniversary since the official release of classic anthem ‘Does This Train Stop on Merseyside’. The song, by Liverpool band ‘Amsterdam’, originally hit the lower reaches of the UK charts in 2005 before beginning a weird and wonderful journey amongst DJ’s, songwriters and music fans alike.
It was clear the song contained a certain emotional magic from even before it’s release (on Beat Crazy Records) when legendary Radio 1 DJ John Peel began to play it after he’d been handed a CD with 30 Mersey based songs on it by local music promoter Phil Hayes.
It wasn’t just that Peelie championed the song, or that it made his last ever famous Festive Fifty, it was the spontaneous and poignant tears he wept live on air every time he played it. When his widow Sheila appeared on Radio 1 after his tragic early death on holiday in Peru she said ‘”Whenever John played it, whether it was live on air or just in his room I had to go and give him a hug because he’d be in floods of tears, because it was just so Liverpool.”
Peelie himself commented on air that “It’s now reached the point at which it makes me cry every time I hear it so I may have to segue the next couple of records.” . (ref: http://peel.wikia.com/wiki/Amsterdam)
The songs writer Ian Prowse recalls talking to the seminal DJ on the phone a few days before he went on his fateful holiday ‘We spoke for about 45 minutes and he told me about how much he loved Liverpool, we planned to meet and do a session for his show when he got back. For me it was just brilliant hearing his iconic voice down the phone praising my music because I only got into rock and roll by waiting for him to play the latest single by The Jam when I was a young lad’.
The most beloved singer in Ireland, Christy Moore, came to the song in a similar fashion when an Amsterdam fan handed him a CD of songs after a show in Manchester. He immediately contacted Ian Prowse and they spoke regularly as Christy wanted to know the story behind the many images within the song. Ian recalls, ‘Christy would call at mad times asking me questions about it, he wanted to inhabit the songs meaning before he went in to record it’.
The song became the centre piece of Christy Moore’s comeback album ‘Listen’ in 2009 and as with many of his best songs became part of the national repertoire with other cover versions springing up all over open mics and folk clubs. A quick search on YouTube reveals many different takes from all over the UK & Ireland.
This Irish connection continued later on when it became the signature tune performed by the Irish Sea Sessions troupe in their wildy received Irish Sea Sessions concerts out of the Liverpool Philharmonic.
There’s even been a re-write by The Wonder Stuff singer Miles Hunt and his brother Russ called ‘Does this train stop in Birmingham’ which adapts the tune but changes the lyrics to reflect their beloved Brum.
The song itself begins with a rumour, the grave of William McKenzie, a ghost story about a Liverpool merchant who entered into a deal with the devil. As ghost stories go it’s a brilliant one and his odd shaped Pyramid tomb on Rodney Street is a local landmark. It has been said that slavery and famine are the Mother and Father of Liverpool and the song references both before moving on past Beatles references (without ever actually mentioning the Beatles themselves) and finally coming to the famously poignant lines concerning James Bulger and the Hillsborough disaster.
The author says the song only took 20 minutes to write, except for the last verse which ‘I had to think long and hard about’. ‘It’s great that people from outside the city, many of who have heard the song in the 10 years George Sephton has been championing it at Anfield, go looking for the many reference points around the city’.
‘Does This Train Stop on Merseyside’ is part of a great tradition of songs about the city stretching back centuries, in more recent times Pete Wylie’s ‘Heart as Big as Liverpool’ and Ian McNabb’s ‘Liverpool Girl’ have been the stand out compositions, not many other cities can claim to have the same effect on its songwriters.
‘I don’t think it’s my fans favourite song of mine but outside of that it’s certainly my most famous either with Pele or Amsterdam, it’s took on a life of its own now, a couple of years ago I jumped up onstage with Elvis Costello at the Empire and he introduced me as ‘Mr. Does this train stop on Merseyside’ so I guess I’m stuck with it!’.
Does This Train Stop on Merseyside: